On this blog post we want to share some of the knowledge we acquired about the Dagomba people and their naming custom! Going to the source of everything we sell is at the core of our work. Visiting the place WHERE it is made, understanding HOW it is made, and most importantly meeting WHO makes it, is essential to our brand.
Some months ago we took a trip to the Upper East Region of Ghana. It’s capital is Bolgatanga (referred to as Bolga sometimes) and it’s the third smallest of the 16 administrative regions in Ghana.
The trip was long and quite tiring because we took a bus from Accra to Tamale (which was an overnight bus and took approximately 12h) and then a shared taxi from Tamale to Bolgatanga which took another 3h (check the google map images below to get an idea of the distances!). However, the excitement to meet the women’s weaving cooperative overtook any negative feeling or sensation.
One of the things we learned is that the Dagomba people are endowed with a very rich naming system. The names come from a variety of sources which we will be sharing with you today. Keep reading on!
The Dagomba people
The Dagomba people are an ethnic group based in the Norther Region of Ghana. They speak a language called Dagbani or Dagbanli and make their living primarily through farming; mainly growing crops such as yam, maize, millet, rice, peanuts, and beans. Most farm work is done by men; women often assist in harvesting. Dwarf shorthorn cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and guinea fowl are kept; hunting and fishing are also practiced.
Women are also taught other skills such as weaving in order to give them multiple sources of income, reason why the surrounding villages of Bolgatanga are full of women’s weaving cooperatives. We had the chance to visit one of these women’s cooperatives. We learned many things about their customs and traditions but on this occasion we want to share with you their naming customs which we found to be very interesting.
Naming customs of the Dagomba people
We took a yellow yellow (which is how they refer to tuk-tuks in the northern region) and traveled to a village bordering with Burkina Faso. One of the first things our eyes witnessed was the beautiful and majestic baobab tree under which all the women where seated under – the significance of one tree is huge. It provides shelter away from the heat to a whole community!
The women welcomed us to a clapping hand rhythm and then one by one introduced themselves by saying their name and the meaning.
We learned that when a child is born, the baby is considered a stranger (sana) until he or she is outdoor and given a name.
The baby is therefore known as “Saan-doo” for a male child and ” Saan-paɣa” for a female child. They address the child by this name until he or she is properly outdoored through a naming ceremony which is done on the 8th day after birth. By this time, the umbilical cord of the child should have fallen off. This is known as “Nyuɣu lubu”.
When the umbilical cord falls, the child’s hair is then shaved and given a name.
Before the ceremonial day, the family head (Daŋ-kpema) makes sacrifices to their ancestors, thanking them for the woman’s safe delivery. He then goes to consult a soothsayer.
This consultation is done in order to find out the purpose of the baby’s visit and also to identify the baby child.
This is important because the Dagbamba people have a strong belief in reincarnation. It is possible that one of their ancestors has decided to come back, just to see how the family is keeping together after their demise.
If the soothsayer affirms that the baby is taken after an earlier ancestor, the family head is obliged to name the child after that ancestor.
However, if the child is just a new member, who wishes to join their family, a befitting name is sought and given to the baby child.
1. Circumstantial Names
A child is named according to the circumstance in which he or she was born. Here are some examples:
Dasoli: a child born while the mother is on her way to the market
Dasana: when a child is born in the market
Dayuuni: a child born from a year old pregnancy
Garo/Gado: a child born next after twins
Ziŋba or ʒiba (missed father or don’t know the father): a child born after the death of their father
Kayaba (Grandfatherless): a child born after the death of their grandfather
Niendoo/ Nienpaga: Born on a bright day (during the day)
Saa: a child born while it’s raining
Tisua: a child born in the middle of the night
Zama: a child born on a day of festivity
2. Reincarnated Names
Dagombas believe strongly in the concept of reincarnation. They call it ”Dɔɣirikpihim” ( Dogri-kpihim). These kids are believed to deliberately torment their mother by dying and getting born again.
Such babies, are “sold” (a rite performed and not sold as in permanently) to a person from another tribe.
The baby is then given the name of the said tribe. The belief is that, giving the baby the name of a different tribe will let the baby stay alive. Some of the names are:
Zabaɣa doo/ Zabaɣa paɣa
Fulani doo / Fulan paɣa
Kusa doo /Kusa paɣa
3. Festival/Month/Day Names
Some children will simply be named after the day of the week on which they where born. These names are more common to the female child than the male child.
Tani (female): Monday born
Zilaata (female): Tuesday born
Laaba: Wesneday born
Laamihi: Thursday born
Azindoo (for male) and Azima (for female): Friday born
Sibi-doo (male) and Sibi-paɣa (female): Saturday born
Lahari (female): Sunday born
4. Proverbial names
They use proverbial names as a way of sending indirect messages to the public or to individuals. Some are good wishes or aspirations the parent has towards their child, others are more a way of expressing the difficulty the mother faced when she was pregnant. Here are some names you can encounter:
Anzansi – courage /perseverance.
Balima – persuasion.
Bangahim – Unique / distinguished
Baŋbebu ( Bangbebu) – Live cautiously.
Beninya – Live to witness.
Bɛneeti – They have awakened us
Bɛgaŋ – Not discriminatory
Bonsuduŋ – Why the hatred?
Chalipang – Forgive
Dipantiche – It will stop one day
Daliri – Good fortune
Dangana – Consolation
Deeshini – persevere / endure in silence
Faako – Relieve
Jilima – Respect
Kasi – Tidy
Kataali – Innocent
Manfooya – I have kept silent
Mbaŋba ( M-bang-ba) – I have found them out
Mandeeya – I have accepted
Malititi – Resolve for us / make things good for us.
M-bo – Well done
Mburidiba – My innocence has caused their destruction.
Mpanko – I’m not alone
Naani – Trust
Nasara – Victory
Neesim – Enlightenment / brightness
Nirilim – kindness / goodness
N-nyeyem – I have become sensible
Ngaŋ-ŋuni – I discrimate against no one
Puumaaya – The pain is gone
Shini-kadoliba – follow them in silence
Suhuyini – Faithfulness
Saha – Good luck
Suglo – patience
Tiyumba – Lets love them
Tiyuuniba – Were watching them.
Tuŋteeya ( Tungteeya) – the family has grown
Tahama – Hopeful
Tifɔmi – We’re silent
Timtooni – progress
Tipaɣiya( Tipagya) – We are grateful
Viɛlim (Vielim) – Beauty
Vikuba – they’ve died of shame
Vinikuba – They’ll die of shame
Yumzaa – Love all
Ʒisuŋ – Good life
Zaa-nyaya – Everyone has seen
Zoosim – greatness
You can find more examples of names here.